Chartogne -Taillet – a grower’s view of a well- tended vineyard
Alexandre Chartogne is one of the rising stars of Champagne, a protégé of Anselme Selosse. Alexandre’s family had been vignerons since 1687 in the north west of the Champagne appellation at Merfy in the Massif St. Thierry above Reims. This beautiful district was famous for the quality of its wines in the 19th century but has been somewhat below the radar in the technically conscious oenologist- led world of modern Champagne. Alexandre is an articulate, thoughtful fellow who unusually studied business, like Pierre Larmandier in Vertus, before returning to the family vineyards. He is mercifully free of some of the more extreme ‘isms of the young Turks who espouse non-interventionist biodynamic viticulture, and who don’t take kindly to anyone who marshals scientific arguments challenging some of their beliefs. Not that Alexandre is opposed to green vineyard practices. He applies organic treatments and eschews all herbicides and pesticides; he has sheep to eat the grass and three horses to plough the 12 hectare vineyards so that the soil does not become impacted.
Alexandre stoutly maintains that growers should representative of places. Where’s the limit, he asks. “People are more and more scared to protect themselves, which makes for a boring existence.” His constantly inquiring mind led him to take five kilograms of grape clusters for a micro-vinification: he was amazed to see that three of them had different yeasts, and as many as 15 -25 after fermentation and sulphites. The issue that really drives him is the health of the soils, so that billions of micro-organisms may cleanse and restore the aerated earth. Alexandre believes that vignerons can learn a lot from the Benedictine monks of the medieval Abbey of St Thierry who among other things used a flat tastevin to taste the wine slowly rather than as a whoosh of liquid into a wine glass. He may well be on to something. It would make a fine change from the tyranny of oenologists and educators who tell us imperiously exactly which tastes we should identify in wine. There isn’t just one approach to recognizing greatness.